Skip to main content

Full text of "Mind's Eye May 1979"

See other formats

The Mind's Eye 

Volume 3 Number 3 


The Mind's Eye is a journal of revrew and comment 
published six limes during the coflege year 
at North Adams, Massachusetts 1247 

American foreign policy effective in the 
Third World needs to forgo Cold War ideology. 

William James College offers career 
preparation from a liberal arts perspective 
and liberal arts with a practical emphasis. 


R. G. Vliet 5 MRS. McELROY 


W. Anthony Gengarelly 7 THE PRISM OF TIME 

"Old Creole Days in the Big Easy," by Robert 
Bishoff ■ 

"What Ever Happened to the Ethnic Mother?" by 
Ellen Schiff 


Gearoid Clerigh 2 The Editor's File 


8 Contributors 

May 1979 


W. Anthony Gengarelly 
Stephen A. Green 
R. Michael Haines 
Charles Mcfsaac 
Thomas A. Mulkeen 
Ellen Schiff 


Charles Mclsoac 

The next issue of the Mind ' s Eye will appear in September. 
Contributions are welcome. 

The Editor's File 


Education, that noble enterprise, is 
defined and celebrated in the lives of its 
leading practitioners. Last year North 
Adams State College lost such a one by the 
death of Margaret Mary Toole — Chaucerian, 
Shakespearean, and scholar of Irish 

literature — who had taught here for twenty 
years. On April 11 the College bade her a 
loving farewell in a memorial and dedica- 
tion ceremony. The following remarks are 
excerpted from the address of Gearoid 
Clerigh, Consul-General of Ireland. 

I think we first came to know Margaret Mary at a meeting of the Eire Society. And 
then she asked me down here and that was one of the extraordinary days of my life. 
I had spoken with her class, and before my wife and I left that evening — we had 
our infant son with us and Margaret Mary insisted that he come into the class, and 
he left with a gold star report — we had begun a deep friendship. We experienced 
her hospitality numerous times and I saw again the way she was dedicated, not just 
to learning, but to people, and how she wished to bring things in people alive in 
them. She was also, besides being self-effacing, a person of quick and ready 
spirit. I had the effrontery to present her with a copy of my poems in Gaelic and 
to say that I was certain she wouldn't understand them. She really bridled at 
this and then I learned that she had studied Irish under Tom Peete Cross; but she 
wasn't somebody to project her learning unnecessarily, and she had so many wide 
fields of knowledge that you never knew about or only came upon by accident. . . . 


by Robert Bence 

Summary of Part One 

In the previous issue of The Mind's Eye I 
presented the case that our concern for 
human rights in the Third World should be 
focused primarily on economic development. 
Promoting Western-style political freedoms 
should be a secondary concern for U.S. 
foreign policy makers. The conclusion of 
this essay outlines a strategy for a human 
rights-based foreign policy toward the 
Third World. 

Part Two 

While public aid from the U.S. government 
and from private multinational corporate 
investment projects may provide a transfer 
of the necessary development capital, 
there is little evidence to indicate that 
our efforts have served to relieve poverty 
in the less developed countries. A recent 
World Bank study projected that by the end 

of the century the masses of poor (2% 
billion or half the world population) will 
receive less than $200 annually per 
capita, and some 800 million of those will 
benefit by less than $100. According to 
United Nations estimates, even in 
countries that have had significant growth 
rates the number of poor does not 
necessarily decrease, but actually 
increases. For example, in Mexico in the 
1950s the richest 20% of the population 
had ten times the Income of the poorest 
20%. By the late 1960s the rich had 
Increased their share to seventeen times 
what the bottom 20% received. 

Development is mare than the simple 
transfer of funds and technology. In 
fact, the problem of development in the 
poorer countries is not primarily 
economic, but political and social. It 
will be necessary in many cases for the 
less developed nations to institute deep 
structural changes in their traditional 


societies in order to obtain the money, 
the infrastructure, and the general 
economic systems they need to reduce 
starvation and provide adequate housing 
and health care. These traditional soci- 
eties overfarm small, uneconomical parcels 
of land, have restrictive class or caste 
systems, and contain various ethnic 
divisions unwilling to abandon parochi- 
alism in exchange for more systematic 
means of production and distribution. 

In the past the U.S. has maintained that 
the introduction of Western technology and 
limited corporate development would even- 
tually change these societies in an 
evolutionary, peaceful style, with the 
added advantage of some immediate 
"trickle-down" benefits. But developement 
must proceed faster if the next few 
generations, especially those in rural 
areas, are going to enjoy the right to 
live relatively healthy, long lives. 
Development may require that traditions be 
severely modified, or in some cases, like 
the caste system, be completely disman- 
tled. The very foundations of traditional 
society may have to be shaken, much as the 
revolutions did in the USSR, China, or 
Cuba. The Red Guard rampages of the 1960s 
a t tost to Chinese youth's rejection of the 
traditional value of respect for elders. 

It is worth noting that economic advance- 
ment is always a difficult process. It 
certainly was In the United States. As 
Robert Heilbroner outlines the process in 
his work Between Capitalism and Socialism , 
industrial development in America meant 
hardship and often death for workers and 
their families. But the Western model, 
which moved too slowly, is not appropriate 
for the noncomparable conditions in most 
African and Asian nations. 

The most convenient model for rapid devel- 
opment is, of course, communism or some 
type of socialism. The implementation of 
this model does not guarantee economic 
Utopia, but by using it, China, for one, 
has made some significant strides in 
reducing the economic hardships of its 
peoples. Obviously there were some 
serious tradeoffs made in this process. 
Opposition was suppressed, lives were 
lost, and families were uprooted. How- 

ever, it is necessary to reemphasize the 
point that major economic changes do not 
occur smoothly in any country. And if 
Mao Tse-tung had not been successful, it 
seems doubtful that the Chinese people 
would have gained a higher level of human 
rights of any type. 

Now, if economic development requires 
revolution, what should the position of 
the United States be toward the developing 
countries, especially in regard to our 
newfound concern for human rights? 

First, we must develop a more sophisticated 
view of human rights — one based not solely 
on our unique experience as an affluent, 
individualistic, liberal democracy. We 
need to appreciate that human rights 
encompasses basic survival needs as well 
as political freedoms. Vietnam should 
have provided a vivid lesson in this 
regard . 

Second, we need finally to abandon one of 
the sacred tenets of our Cold War philos- 
ophy—that communism and socialism are 
always less preferable than other 
political-economic systems. 

Third, concerning policy initiatives, we 
will have to split some, very fine hairs in 
determining what regimes are most likely 
to deal effectively with human rights, 
especially the crucial ones of human 
survival. It might well be that Cuban 
troops and technicians in Ethiopia and 
Angola are necessary to insure the polit- 
ical stability needed to put together a 
sound economic framework. It is also 
possible that we should not frown upon 
antidemocratic developments in countries 
which — like India — may require more 
centralized forms of government to resolve 
their staggering problems of overpopu- 
lation and poverty. We should also 
consider our allegiance to questionable 
allies like President Mobutu of Zaire, 
who has allowed a corrupt governmental and 
economic system to severely retard any 
kind of development. It seems obvious 
that we cannot be supporters of totali- 
tarian regimes per se , but we will have to 
look more closely at the options available 
to deal with human rights, from simple 
diplomatic recognition to military and 
developmental aid. 


There are many dangers in making human 
rights a cornerstone of our foreign 
policy, not the least of which is that we 
may get tangled up in a pretentiously 
moralistic campaign recalling the chauvin- 
istic days of Woodrow Wilson ("We will 
teach those people to elect good leaders"). 
But given the high level of economic and 
military involvement we have in the world 
already, the decisions our government 
makes or fails to make will have an 
effect, even if unintentional, on human 
rights. We should realize that building a 
political system that integrates and 
mobilizes a traditional society may have 
some nasty side effects that are incon- 
sistent with liberal democracy. Concern 
for human rights is valid, but it is 
important that this concern be placed in a 
broader perspective than that of our own 
peculiar history. 

by Michael Haines 

Early in April, I attended a National 
Conference on Education and Vocation at 
William James College, one of the colleges 
of the "cluster college" known as the 
Grand Valley State Colleges, in Allendale, 
Michigan (near Grand Rapids) . The confer- 
ence was funded as part of an overall 
study of the program at William James 
under a grant from the U.S. Office of Edu- 
cation. The basic aim of the conference 
was to communicate to a national audience 
the unique program at William James — a 
program which professes to integrate 
liberal arts and career education. 

William James College was founded in 1971 
as one of three experimental colleges at 
Grand Valley (in addition to their 
"normal" College of Arts and Sciences and 
their two graduate programs) . One of the 
experimental schools, Thomas Jefferson 
College, is based on the English tutorial 
system — all independent study, no grades, 
no requirements. The other experimental 
program, Kirkbof College, is self-paced and 
competency-based. The fact that the three 
experiments began in the early 70s is 

significant: each program in its own way 
is a response to the 60s. 

William James College is not named by 
accident: it was founded on the philos- 
ophy of its namesake — the American 
physician, philosopher, teacher, psychol- 
ogist, and student of comparative 
religion. As the college notes in its 
brochure, James "was associated with a 
pragmatic approach to social, technical, 
and economic questions; with a pluralistic 
attitude toward the physical and social 
sciences he pursued; and with an urbane 
humanism in his personal life." The goal 
of James's studies was "action in the 
world"; likewise, the goal of the college 
is to reach out into the world, "to enable 
our graduates to lead personally meaning- 
ful lives of action." 

The USOE grant which the college received 
was one of two awarded to study career 
education in liberal arts colleges. The 
other award was to Madonna College, a 
school outside Detroit. The major differ- 
ence between the two programs is that 
Madonna's is essentially a career or 
vocational education program "added on" 
to a traditional liberal arts program. 
The curriculum at William James is the 
"infused model" — an Integration of career 
education and liberal arts. The college 
says it does not make the "usual distinc- 
tion between liberal arts education and 
career education"; instead, it attempts to 
teach "career-related subjects from a 
liberal arts perspective and liberal arts 
subjects from a practical point of view." 

How successful are they? That, I am 
afraid, remains to be seen. The point of 
the conference was to demonstrate that 
they are Indeed successful. Ironically, 
however, at just the moment they were 
trying to communicate this message to the 
hundred or so invited guests, they found 
out from the administration at Grand 
Valley that they were facing imminent 
retrenchment as a result of declining 
enrollments and curtailments in state 
budgets. The situation caused a fair 
amount of def ensiveness on the part of the 
William James faculty and administration, 
and this def ensiveness coupled with the 
missionary zeal of past and present 


Mrs. Mcelroy 

by R. G. Vliet 

The front room was always closed: 
the half-pulled 

shades, the listening furniture, old 
novels, Latin school Cicero, lace 

curtains waiting in the still air. 

In the parlor she put another chunk 
in the cast 

iron stove, then sat in her rocker 
with the tatted throw, among heaps 
of Christian 

Science Sentinels and Monitors, in company 

with the pain in her hip, the constant witnes 
of pain 

in her long hand bones: angels 
of error she had daily to wrestle with. 
She wore 

white drawstring cap, long 

blue cotton dress with flat 

collar and white cuffs, black 
apron. A cane hung from her chair. 
I never saw 

the ankles of her cricket-dark shoes. 

Her husband had been translated years ago. 
A rose-wreathed 

saucer sat on the table beside me 
with its twice-weekly offering of apple 

betty. Before I split the kindling 

we visited, she in the loneliness 
of dwindling 

time, I in the pain of a boy's 
eternal present. The slop bucket 

by the kitchen door. Mrs. McElroy 

hobbled through the yard, her cane 

this chore and that chore: slops 
to be poured, mulch turned, thinning 
of a strawberry 
bed, tying up of brambles. 

Under the mulberries, red stains 
and bird 

droppings. April, asparagus. Cuttings 

of rhubarb thick as my wrist. Raspberries, 


In August I fought starlings for bushels 

of bing cherries, fistfuls of damsons 
for her tart 

jellies. The sun still shines that shone 
on her. Since then, my dear, my mother 
and my bride, 

I have loved the struggling aged. 

@ 1979 by R. G. Vliet 


students who were also a part of the 
conference made it very difficult to 
winnow the grain from the chaff. But the 
fact is that, to a person, the faculty, 
students, and graduates were incredibly 
enthusiastic about the program (and how 
long it has been since you heard faculty 
and students gushing about a curriculum?) . 
Visiting consultants, some of whom were 
present at the conference, were also 
generally positive about the program, 
though in their written reports they do 
have some specific criticisms. An evalu- 
ation conducted as part of the grant by an 
outside agency is also positive (at least 
the summary which I have received — I am 
still awaiting the full report) . 

The conference itself had its problems, 
not the least of which was the coinci- 
dence with the college's bad news. It 
also had the usual problems of conferences 
involving academics, many of whom seem to 
have an overweening fondness for the sound 
of their own voices and to be plagued by a 
chronic inability to organize talks and/or 
to get to the point. But, try as they did 
to hide the important ideas and infor- 
mation, the conference was a valuable 
experience — at least as a beginning, 

I think we can (and must) learn from the 
attempt to integrate career and liberal 
arts education. We all know how our 
students have turned into raging pragma- 
tists and materialists, and we know that, 
in an age of a shrinking pool of potential 
students, we must begin to be a bit 
pragmatic ourselves. But there are those 
of us who are unwilling — perhaps unable — 
to let go of the traditional values of the 
liberal arts. Possibly, just possibly, 
William James College has some answers for 
our own expressed concern to integrate 
career and liberal arts education. 

Now, that is not to say that we ought to 
become a branch campus of William James 
College. One of the speakers at the 
conference, Jonathan Smith, a dean at the 
University of Chicago, suggested that we 
recognize "institutional particularity." 
That is, we must recognize, and not fight, 
the fact that each institution has its own 
particular history which has made it into 
what it is: William James could not be a 

Chicago any more than Chicago could be a 
William James. (As I mentioned above, 
William James is what it is probably as 
much because it was founded in the early 
70s as for any other reason.) 

North Adams State College is also what it 
is because of its history, and there is 
little likelihood it could become a 
Chicago or a William James. However, I 
personally would like to see some dramatic 
changes in curriculum, and I think the 
time is ripe. And we can learn from 
places like William James: not to learn 
from other institutions could be academic 
suicide , 

One thing which William James has done and 
which I would like to see North Adams 
State do is to abolish all departments and 
offer all its degrees as interdiscipli- 
nary, individualized programs. Such a 
suggestion might be, because of our 
particular history, an unrealistic expec- 
tation, but it is not the first time it 
has been proposed at this college (several 
years ago a long-range planning committee 
offered a similar proposal). If, however, 
this proposal is too drastic, we can at 
least continue to build on the foundation 
of the interdisciplinary program we now 
have: we can offer a variety of models or 
clusters of interdisciplinary courses in 
add ition to traditional departmental 
ma j or s . 

Another change we can consider — and here 
we can learn a lot from William James 
College — is to think more of relating the 
liberal arts to the real world, without 
falling prey to the trap of a contrived 
"relevance." We can, for one thing, 
expand our developing cooperative educa- 
tion and internship programs in order to 
give our students "real world" experience. 
We can do more to convince them of the 
value of the liberal arts in a variety of 
careers (and here we could probably enlist 
the aid of people from the outside). But 
we could also afford to look more closely 
at what William James College and others 
do in individual courses to integrate the 
two types of education so that our 
students do not so readily write off 
certain offerings as mere ivory tower 
hurdles to jump over on the way to gradu- 


ation. Not to do so could well spell 
certain death for some of the more tradi- 
tional courses or departments. 

Whatever we do, we must do something soon 
if we are to survive the shrinking pool of 
students and the governor's cutthroat 
policies. I think we must demonstrate the 
value of what we have done, but I think 
we must also improve what we are doing. 
Our way to improve might well be to look 
more closely at programs like that at 
William James. 

The Literary Scene 


"Old Creole Days in the Big Easy" 
By Robert Bishoff 

"What Ever Happened to the Ethnic Mother?" 
By Ellen Schiff 

by W. Anthony Gengarelly 

On March 30, Professors Robert Bishoff and 
Ellen Schiff of the North Adams State 
College English Department delivered 
papers at the annual meeting of the North- 
east Modern Language Association. I 
attended the Conference and heard the 
papers as an interested partisan. Both 
presentations dealt with fictional treat- 
ments of ethnic prototypes. Bishoff 
analyzed George Washington Cable's 
image of the Creole culture of ante- 
bellum New Orleans, while Schiff examined 
the changing perceptions of motherhood in 
some contemporary American literature. 

Bishoff shared the platform with three 
others in a session titled Fictional 
Treatments of American History. Adroitly 
chaired by Lea Newman, also of the NASC 
English Department, this session launched 
into several themes dealing with the 
question of historical perspective— more 
specifically, how subjective inderstanding 
informs perception in interpreting the 
past. Bishoff s analysis of Cable's Old 

Creole Days directed itself to this issue 
throughout . 

After outlining the historical background 
of New Orleans's French-Spanish culture, 
Bishoff discussed Cable's portrayal of the 
flower of that culture — the Creole. A 
blend of French and Spanish stock, New 
Orleans Creoles have been characterized as 
"a race of fiery, spirited, chivalrous, 
cultured men and delicately beautiful, 
modest, and charmingly feminine women." 
According to Bishoff, Cable saw his 
Creoles in no such romantic light. 
Against the background of the rapid 
ascendancy and the even more rapid decline 
of French-Spanish influence in the "Big 
Easy" prior to 1840, Cable depicts his 
Creole figures as a "composite picture 
of decline, decadence and decay." 

Bishoff attributed this atypical treatment 
to Cable's enduring feelings of guilt over 
slavery ("the act of trading in human 
beings") . The theme of slavery, Bishoff 
contended, is foremost in Old Creole Days 
(1879) , even though it is specifically 
mentioned only once in the whole 
narrative. Yet, at the "very structural 
center" of the book, a Creole slave 
trader, Jean Poquelin, has a brother 
stricken with leprosy on a slaving expe- 
dition to the coast of Guinea. Here, 
then, is the cause underlying the 
book's theme of decadence, for, Bishoff 
concluded, "the ghost of Jean Poquelin 
and his leprous brother hang like an 
infectious shadow over all the work." 

Even though Cable uses a real cultural 
type in an actual historical setting, his 
subjective feelings about slavery deter- 
mine how the ethnic characters and 
historical theme are rendered. Co inci- 
dentally, Cable's northern literary 
contemporaries, Henry Adams and Henry 
James, also employ southern figures to 
render a moral judgment on society. In 
marked contrast to Cable, however, Adams 
In Democracy and James in The Bostonians 
treat their southern characters sympathet- 
ically as representatives of the Old 
South 's genteel tradition and, thus, as 
important counterpoints to the crass 
materialism of the Gilded Age. 
Schiff' s presentation, in a session titled 


Women in Ethnic Literature, also demon- 
strated the influence of social values on 
the treatment of literary figures. In 
this case the feminist movement has 
colored the traditional image of the 
ethnic mother. Schiff commenced by 
contrasting t^e literary stereotype with 
contemporary images. Motherhood she 
observed has been the sole profession of 
the ethnic mother. "When it comes to 
establishing her sense of self and her 
personal dignity, the ethnic mother looks 
not into her mirror, but to her relation- 
ship with her family." Such is not the 
case, however, with the maternal charac- 
ters in a number of books written in the 
last decade which "depict very different 
sorts of mothers, searchers for niche and 
identity, who neither seek nor find them- 
selves in the realm of maternity." 

Schiff then analyzed the personal and 
maternal struggles of three female charac- 
ters: Brave Orchid, the subject of Maxine 
Hong Kingston's biography The Woman 
Warrier ; Rivkeh Lev, the conflicted mother 
of Chaim Potok's novel My Name is Asher 
Lev ; and Maya Angelou in her autobiography 
Gather Together In My Name . Schiff's 
description of each struggle is punctuated 
with dramatically effective declarations 
from her female heroes. Brave Orchid's 
daughter recalls that her mother told her 
she "would grow up a wife and a slave," 
but that she must cultivate defiance; 
"She taught me the song of the warrior 
woman. ..." Rivkeh Lev is "trapped 
between two realms of meaning" — the ethos 
of traditional Judaism represented by her 
husband and the antithetical values of the 
art world as they have affected her son. 
Professionally trained, Rivkeh at one 
point decides to join her diplomat husband 
in Vienna over the protests of Asher, her 
artist son, to whom she responds: "You 
are not the only one in this family with 
special needs." Engulfed in a seemingly 
hopeless identity crisis, Maya Angelou, 
a teen-aged unwed mother, poignantly 
reflects on her infant son's affection: 
"While the total trust of a child can mold 
a parent into a new form, Guy's big 
smile . . , and happy disposition lost its 
magic to make me happy. He believed in 
me, but he was a child and I had lost 
belief in myself." 

Ironically, Maya is finally aided in her 
search for herself by her own mother, 
whom she had previously rejected. Evi- 
dence of this sort leads Schiff to observe 
that traditional motherhood has not yet 
vanished from literature, that nurturing 
is still a vital concept and survives as 
an important redeeming quality in the 
image of maternity, however it may other- 
wise be reshaped. The "time-honored 
reflections of the mother as comforter and 
inspiration combine with the more icono- 
clastic images of mothers ... to suggest 
that, although the ethnic mother's ward- 
robe may be infinitely larger and more 
varied than ever, she has not yet dis- 
carded her bedroom slippers." One can 
only hope that this summation holds, that 
social revolution will permit women to 
realize their full potential while leaving 
them free to continue to perform that 
essential, if previously exaggerated, task 
of mothering. 

The day was exciting and profitable. 
Schiff's and Bishoff's elucidation of the 
profound influence of social evolution on 
literary perspective added, for me, a 
special dimension to the methodology of 
historical judgment. 


Robert Bence, Assistant Professor of 
History and Political Science, led a group 
of ten students to the Sudan in summer 
1978 under the auspices of Crossroads/ 
America . 

W. Anthony Gengarelly, Assistant Professor 
of History and Political Science is a 
specialist in American civilization and 
literature . 

Michael Haines, Assistant Professor of 
English, is a medievalist and a freelance 

R. G. Vliet, a poet and novelist, tends 
his garden in Stamford, Vermont. His 
next book of poems will be brought out 
next year by Random House. 

Drawing by Joe Magiera.